DictationIt’s every parents worst homework nightmare – finding out your child has a report due and realizing said child has done nothing, or next to nothing, towards making the deadline.

But I’m going to go out on a limb and say that it’s even worse when your child has a learning disability.

That’s because you know the minute you start to work on the project there will be tears, yelling, gnashing of teeth and much stomping of feet and slamming of doors by at least one, if not all, of us. But because time is short, there is no time to take a break, or tackle the project in small bites.

And need I mention the guilt? For as angry as I may be about a complete and total breakdown of the homework system, there is guilt for failing our son even as we know he needs more help and support than your average child.

Tonight was that kind of night when I realized the first major deliverable of a biographical project involving role-playing, interview and costume was due on Wednesday. You know, the day after tomorrow.

Did I mention that our son left the source material at school?

Desperate times often lead to creative measures.

With libraries closed for the Martin Luther King holiday, I found and purchased a book for our son’s Amazon Kindle Fire. In addition to allowing him to use his favorite device (everything is better on a screen – including reading), I also showed him how he could look up words he didn’t know by highlighting the word and pulling up a definition. We also realized he could search the book when he couldn’t remember a term or name.

Reading completed, we were then faced with having him write or type his report, answering a list of questions provided by his teacher. Because of his dyslexia, our son is a terrible speller. While we’ve been encouraged to allow him to type, his spelling is so atrocious often the built in spell-checker is left completely confused by what he is trying to spell. And his typing skills are non-existence meaning just the act of typing can add several hours and degrees of pain and anguish.

So today we tried dictation for the first time. Recently my father had had a terrible time trying Dragon for Macintosh, so instead we turned to the dictation feature included with Mountain Lion, the new Apple operating system. Working slowly, sentence-by-sentence our son was able to answer each question, with very few dictation-related typos. The accuracy was pretty amazing.

Four hours after starting the project, our son’s rough draft was complete with minimal tears and fights. I am proud to say I kept my cool through most of his explosions – choosing to stay silent when he started yelling – and was amazed when he, upon realizing he was done, apologized for his behavior and thanked me for my help.

I have always been skeptical about using technology like dictation to help our son – I have concerns that he will never learn to spell, and his handwriting will remain nearly illegible – but today I can say that these tools made everyone’s life easier and contributed to my son’s sense of accomplishment and love of learning.

And that is a win.


7 Responses to Technology to the rescue

  1. Kristin says:

    Brilliant!~ Bravo to you both!

  2. Margot says:

    Congratulations Kristen! I love that you kept your cool and Anders was able to pull it together through his frustration. I’d consider that a wonderful example of potential disaster turned excellent experience.

  3. Heather says:

    Very resourceful! I don’t know if this app would work for someone with dyslexia, but I’ve been loving Anki. Basically you can make flashcards and then sync them between your desktop and iPad or iPod. But the really spiffy thing is that based on whether you get the flashcards right or not, the program gives you a second chance at different times. The idea is that you want the flashcards again just as you are abut to forget the information. I really enjoy using the flashcards myself (maybe because it’s on a computer so it feels more like a game) and I feel the “spaced repetition” part of it is super effective. And not as boring as simply going through all the deck over and over.

  4. Erin says:

    Kristin, I feel your pain. Homework is a constant battle here as well. For us, learning to keyboard has made a huge difference. Yes, it’s still hunting and pecking but with regular practice it gets better. I think when your child has a non-traditional learning style it’s important to try anything and everything until something clicks. The other lesson I have learned is to break long assignments like this one into smaller parts and have an agenda that both you and the teacher sign. Send it back and forth and ask the teacher to help break down assignments when there’s a big one coming up. That way you and Anders will know what’s coming around the corner.

  5. Catherine says:

    How lucky are our kids to be growing up in a time where all of this technology is available to help them, particularly if they are not typically developing or a non-traditional learner. And what a wonderful teacher who is willing to allow it. I have a non-typical child who has a number of accomadations to help him reach his full potential in school. Dictation will never fully replace spelling and writing, not should it. However, it is definitely helpful in completing a project where spelling and writing were not the main focus. Without the technology, he would have not been able to happily complete the project.

  6. Tracey says:

    I have a child with dyslexia as well. I can sympathize with so much of what you describe. My daughter cries in frustration at the spell check that can’t figure out what word she is trying to use. I cry when I read her papers and see she picked the wrong word from the spell check options and does not know it. It scares me that the school says this is the best we can expect and want to simply excuse her from meeting curriculum standards in English and writing. It is so hard to know what the best long-term and short-term strategies are and how to strike a balance between the two. Congratulations on making it through this assignment and I hope the rest of the year is a success.

  7. Heather says:

    I feel your pain. My son has a learning disability and his spelling is also atrocious. I was an English major in college, and although I never entered any spelling bees, I consider myself a good speller. I hate that my son can’t spell, and doesn’t retain some of the simplest patterns. It has taken a long time to accept that his skills lie elsewhere. It also took several teachers (subject and special ed.), the pediatrician, 2 school psychologists, and an educational advocte for me to let it go. Their answer was always “that’s what spell check is for.” That still seems like a copout to me, disability or no disability, but I accept for now that he MUST use the tools he can, to continue the learning process and make progress. I have not tried Dragon or any other dictation aid, but will be trying it soon. I wish you and Anders the best as you continue to navigate the school and homework challenges.